Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Shadowing CERTs: Class 6: Light Search & Rescue Operations

[Previously, on Shadowing CERTs: Over the past five weeks, the students of Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Classes 85 and 86 have learned the mindset, knowledge, and disaster response skills it takes to be a CERT. In their next-to-last class, Light Search & Rescue Operations, CERTs are faced with an unfamiliar building, then must learn new skills on how to safely extricate victims.]

The line of the night comes early, during the pre-drill refresher: "Worst turkey, easiest to get out." It's a mishearing of instructor Mike Forgy's guidance on determining priorities for transporting survivors to Medical. Although the actual line is, "Worst hurt, easiest to get out," the turkey version still kind of fits. And it won't be the only miscommunication of the evening.

CERTs set up Command outside Building B and await orders. All Photos: Joe Loong

This drill throws something new at the CERT students: Building B. Although they may have done a lap of it as part of earlier scene size-ups, they haven't been inside. It's much bigger than the other burn buildings, with floors that mimic the layout of an apartment building and office building. Unknown to the CERTs, simulated victims are only on the third floor, but it's still a lot of ground to cover.

A CERT rescue team treats a simulated survivor in a bed.

The CERTs get to work, searching for survivors in a post-tornado scenario. As they search for plywood victims, problems arise: Rescue teams are idled, waiting for initial sizeup teams to return. Simulated hazards are overlooked or disregarded. Bottlenecks arise and teams run into each other with orders that are contradictory, redundant, or sometimes even both.

CERTs debrief after the drill, sharing things that went well and things that could be improved.

However, mistakes and confusion are part of the learning experience, so that when CERTs are faced with the chaos of a real disaster response, they'll stay calm, resolve conflicts, and work the problem. And during the debrief, CERTs share their experiences, including things that went well, and things they can improve on.

Debriefing after drills is a crucial part of CERT training.

Light Search & Rescue and Crib Notes

Returning to the classroom, Lead Instructor Steve Willey starts getting into the details of CERT Light Search & Rescue Operations. Keeping rescuer safety first in mind, CERTs learn to categorize structures according to Light, Moderate, and Heavy damage, with Heavily damaged buildings being "NO GO" areas for CERTs. (You can practice evaluating structures and rescuing survivors in this web-based tutorial that Steve helped create.)

Presentation slide showing the characteristics of structures with Heavy damage, which are off-limits to CERTs.

After getting best practices for organizing and deploying Rescue teams (including adapting the Fire Department's tactic of designating Rapid Intervention Teams tasked to help rescuers who get into trouble), CERTs then learned the mechanics behind extricating trapped victims.

CERTs carefully use lifting and cribbing to safely free a simulated victim from beneath an unstable pile of wooden pallets.

CERTs learned to use simple machines like levers and inclined planes to turn mechanical advantage to their advantage. They also learned how to stack cribbing -- materials  crisscrossed like Jenga blocks -- to provide support as they lifted, following the rule "Lift an inch, crib an inch." Then, they went outside to two lifting and cribbing stations to turn theory into practice.

CERTs practice using levers and wedges to move a dumpster.

Using two-by-fours, four-by-fours, wedges, and blocks to move the heavy items, CERTs learned that they needed to plan out their moves in advance, and communicate them to all team members.

CERTs work together to safely stabilize and lift the pallets.

CERTs also learned vital safety lessons, like never reaching under what's being lifted (instead, use a push stick to position materials), and never standing over a lever (to avoid being struck if it moves unexpectedly).

Next time, we'll see how the CERTs perform as they handle fire extinguishers and then take on their last drill before their final, full-scale graduation exercise.

Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at

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